First Lady and Minister for Education and Sports, Janet Museveni.

The First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports Janet Museveni has urged all heads of both Public and Private Universities to plan to invest in endowment funds which will become a critical source of revenue for their institutions of higher learning.

Mrs Museveni was chairing a meeting to brainstorm on how to solve the challenges facing the private universities because of the continued closure of all education institutions as part of the #Covid-19 restrictions.

This meeting followed a directive made by the President to the Ministers of Education and Finance to meet the Vice Chancellors of private Universities following a plea for help to him by the Uganda Vice Chancellors Forum.

She said that universities worldwide cannot survive from tuition fees or government support alone because these funds are not sufficient to run all their activities and therefore emphasized the need to plan for such things as an endowment fund.

“The University endowment fund would provide a critical source of funding in times of need when unanticipated problems like the #Covid-19 pandemic that resulted into current closure of all education institutions come up,”Mrs Museveni said.

“So please consider establishing an Endowment Fund in your plans and a committee to manage this fund for your institution”, she told the Vice Chancellors.

She observed that the #Covid-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call to people, government sectors, universities, schools, businesses and other entities that it is not practical to live from hand to mouth in the world we are living in.

Mrs Museveni said the government is cognizant and appreciates the work and contribution of the private universities to nation building, but because of the heavy burden it is facing to provide for literally everybody, it currently does not have adequate resources to bail them out with grants and off-setting their wage bills.

She however, introduced them to the possibility of benefiting from low interest loans from the government Fund placed in the Uganda Development Bank.

She promised to table their proposals before the Cabinet for further discussion on their viability.

“We hope there will be some solutions before the education institutions are re-opened”.

In their presentation read by Dr. John Senyonyi, the Chairman Uganda Vice Chancellors’ Forum, the Private Universities leaders expressed fear that if there is no help during and following the #Covid-19 Pandemic, the private higher education institutions may be forced to close either partially or fully or continue as ghosts of their former selves.

They recommended cancellation of all outstanding tax obligations of the private universities and requested for an income tax and paye tax holiday for one or two years arguing that when these institutions reopen after the #Covid-19 Pandemic, they will be faced with financial hardships including depleted bank accounts and students unable to meet their Fees obligations.

The Private Universities also proposed a review of the modus operandi of the Student Loans Scheme so that it becomes equitably accessible in all universities licensed by the Uganda National Council for Higher Education just as it is in Kenya and Tanzania. They also want the cap of Shs7.2 million on Student Loans to be removed and the 4,000 scholarships to be rolled into the students’ loan scheme.

Other recommendations include government extending an annual budget grant that supports all private universities to enhance their ICT platform and sciences, set up infrastructure to support E-Learning and to negotiate for low cost internet data bundles. They propose an offset of their wage bills for at least a semester, as they wait for their operations to normalize and to be equally considered in the government’s resolve to promote multidisciplinary research to unearth the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy and social fabric of the Ugandan society and the solutions thereof.

They requested the government to also support their institutions to procure Temperature monitors, sanitizers and face masks when the time for re-opening comes.

David Bahati, the State Minister for Planning, said that cancellation of the outstanding tax obligations is not feasible because all other businesses are also facing a similar situation. He advised them to instead take advantage of the government’s extension of the period in which to pay their tax obligations and the cancellation of penalties and interest on tax arrears.

He assured the Vice Chancellors that the Ministry of ICT was in the process of discussing with the World Bank a facility to do with the extension of Internet and ICT services to the entire country that may include supporting infrastructure for e- Learning.